“The Program” – a movie review

The Program - a movie about the career of Lance ArmstrongI just finished watching “The Program” – a dramatized version of the events of Lance Armstrong. The movie itself credits its inspiration to David Walsh and his book “Seven Deadly Sins.” Somehow I had been aware of this movie and had (incorrectly) assumed that it was another in the line of documentary works that come out since the Oprah Winfrey interview with Lance Armstrong. After watching, however, I realized this was a bit different.

This movie was a dramatization in that there were actors playing all the roles. The astute cycling fans will recognize the moments of actual footage scattered throughout the production. But there is no denying that Lance Armstrong, Frankie and Betsy Andreu, Johan Bruyneel and other key figures were played by actors. That sets it apart from the majority of the films published since Lance Armstrong’s admissions.

While the story is populated with actors, it maintains the documentary feel, depicting real-world events accurately enough that those familiar with the story will recognize them. One of my complaints, however, would be about how much they tried to capture in this film. The 1 hour and 43 minute runtime attempts to represent the entire career of Armstrong – from entering as a pro to the present day. With a scope that ambitious the writers had to pick and choose from some of the “key moments” in the story, and undoubtedly many of you will be frustrated by many of the omissions (more on this later).

Those omissions can do a lot to shape the representation of the story, and to this I’ll actually give the writers and directors credit. The Program actually came off, to me, as reasonably unbiased. Controversial figures such as Armstrong and Landis are portrayed as neither sympathetic nor villainous characters. If there is a “hero” at all in this, it would be David Walsh. His story starts out verbally supporting the up and coming young Lance Armstrong, to being suspicious of his performance, to coming out in the minority decrying apparent doping, to final vindication. Which is not surprising. This is, after all, essentially a film adaptation of his book “Seven Deadly Sins.”

A Scene from the movie The Program
Scene from “The Program.” Armstrong and Landis in hotel room.

I’ve actually not read Walsh’s book, and I can’t help but wonder if some of the omissions from the story that felt glaring to me are a result of the representation of facts in that book.

Other than a mention by name in one scene, Tyler Hamilton is completely absent from the story. The email accusations by Floyd Landis during the 2010 Tour of California are represented by a single, fictitious scene of Landis going into an office proclaiming “I want to confess.” (Never got to hear “We like our word. We like our credibility.”) Greg Lemond isn’t mentioned, and the ongoing assault on Betsy Andreu was simpy implied in the film by a single conversation between Armstrong and his lawyer.

All in all the movie was watchable. For those not as familiar with the history of the story, it may in fact be quite educational. However, from my perspective it comes off as the Cliff Notes version – which is to be expected when you try to compress over a decade into just over 90 minutes.

I’m glad I watched it, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. And if anyone asks me for a recommendation I’ll probably just give a “meh.

At the time of this writing, The Program is available for streaming on Amazon.com – where it is included free for Prime membership holders. It is also available on DVD from Netflix.